this large party's successful crossing
of the Caucausus Mountains in December a miracle? Or was it
the way things happened to go?
At the least, you would have to say that
uniquely fortunate in having guides who knew the way testing the
for him at every step and taking turns breaking trail, not to mention
eighty people walking ahead of him trampling down the snow.
contrast between the week-long blizzard in which they began and the
clear and calm weather they found at the pass. You can begin
their extraordinary luck when you realize that theirs was the only
which was successful in making it across the mountains after new snow
to fall. They may have been the last organized party out of
But how in the world had
my father ever gotten to
Of all the eager young students who'd
enlist at the same time as Dad when the White Army came to Voronezh, he
was the only one still on his feet and moving -- the sole one among
who'd managed to survive and to escape from Russia.
Yet, on the face of things, my father
had done nothing
for himself. One way or another, everything had been done for
He'd been on his own only for the
briefest of moments.
The rest of the time he had just done what he was told to do -- mainly
by Ivan Kashirin, but also by the White Army, by the nurses and doctors
at Ekaterinodar, by Sister Nina, by the Kuban Cossacks, by General
and by the Cherkessi guides who'd led them on tiptoe over Kluhorskii
All too often, the result of putting
other people's hands had proven to be disaster, futility and
Except that somehow in the midst of all that was going wrong,
things had just happened to happen which had made it possible for him
continue and to make it over the mountains.
After this, the miracles would never
along in clusters and bunches the way they had during the
months it took Dad to travel the six hundred miles from Voronezh to
walking most of the distance. Nevertheless, until my father's
finally stabilized again with him studying at a university in Syracuse,
New York, and he no longer had the same need for miracles, his
good fortune would continue to operate whenever it was necessary.
The most blatant example of this would
be Dad finding
money in the streets of Constantinople when he had to have
was something that never happened to him before, and neither would it
In the spring of 1923, my father had
just been getting
by in Turkey for a period of more than two years. First, Ivan
turned into a moody and belligerent drunk in idleness and exile; then
application to join a monastery in the Balkans had been accepted, and
departed for Serbia. Now Dad was sharing one large room with
other men, collecting, washing and delivering laundry, and doing odd
when he could find them, but otherwise just marking time.
That spring, the U.S. Congress passed a
immigration bill making places for former Russian university students
graduates. My father knew nothing more about America than
was the place for which his ancestor's brother had set sail from the
of Russia, and the impressions he'd picked up reading books like The
Last of the Mohicans and Huckleberry
But no other countries were offering special opportunities to refugees
from the Russian Revolution.
Dad would be successful in passing an
given by a board of three Russian and two American professors designed
to identify real students and to weed out opportunists. He
to go to America.
But for him to reach the United States,
he had to
be able to pay half the passage money in advance, and riding in
from Constantinople to New York cost $90.
Forty-five dollars may not seem like
especially if you have forty-five dollars. However, at a time
my father was barely earning enough money to pay for the food to keep
alive and his part of the room rent, it was an overwhelming amount.
Then, one morning that spring, Dad was
little extra money by helping to carry another Russian's luggage two
to the train station. As they were crossing a busy
the heart of the city, my father spied a small roll of paper held
with a rubber band lying against the curb. Without pausing to
at it, he picked it up and put it in his pocket.
After delivering his burden to the
station and receiving
his payment -- "the equivalent of ten American cents," Dad says -- he
to see exactly what he'd found. And inside the rubber band
hundred Turkish piasters.
This money wasn't enough in itself to
pay for my
father's passage, but it was almost half of what he needed.
few of the piasters bought him a rare decent meal.
For the rest of the money, Dad appealed
to his sister
Katya, who was now living in Poland.
She'd had adventures, too.
Katya was a nurse
who'd fled Voronezh after being denounced as a counter-revolutionary
an enemy of the proletariat by the wife of a Red official to whom she'd
refused admission to the hospital with a trivial complaint.
then attached herself to the field hospital of a Polish army unit
in southern Russia by Russia's withdrawal from World War I.
come down with typhoid fever, and later married her doctor, Josef
Polish money wasn't worth very much in
But Dr. Szulc cashed in his life insurance policy for its current value
and sent the proceeds to his young brother-in-law, whom he would never
meet. And thousands of zlotys turned into the $25 my father
So there you have it -- one more time
the good will
of others and a happy accident were able to do for Dad what he would
been completely incapable of doing for himself. And in June
for America on the Greek steamer King Alexander.